America · Diary · Illinois · Illinois · Living Abroad · Travelling

It is so loud here.

The downside of living in a city? Traffic.

You’d think that living 35 floors up you would become immune to it – especially having spent most of my life living next to a busy road. However it’s constant in the evenings – ambulances, police and fire vehicles, wind (despite the real reason for the ‘Windy City’ getting its name I can testify that it is definitely windy!). Add to that the defending sound of the L and you can barely hear yourself think. 

Also car horns. Why do drivers think that hooting really loudly and repeatedly will sort things? Does that ever work? (Asking as a mom driver here).

Today we went in search of some more tranquil areas and ended up in the prairie district in the south of the city. It was very green and tree-lined – reminding me a lot of D.C., particularly Takoma. I would like to go back to D.C. at some point soon but until then this was a nice reminder!




We then headed down to Chinatown and went to get a quick snack – possibly choosing the least Chinese items in the shop…


Custard tart (Max)


Cream bun (me)

Back at home, we have chocolate chips, blueberries and maple syrup. It’s finally time for American pancakes! 

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America · Desserts · Doughnuts · Illinois · Illinois · Living Abroad · Travelling

The Best Doughnuts in Chicago

So here it is. What you’ve all been waiting for!

The definitive listings of Chicago doughnuts, in reverse order!

8. Donut Delight

Sorry guys – there has to be a last place. We ordered a pineapple old fashioned and couldn’t taste pineapple… 

7. Glazed and Infused

Similar to Donut Delight, there was just not enough flavor. We ordered a Nutella Old Fashioned and it was rather stodgy and though fine, it’s not somewhere I’d run back to.

6. Mariano’s 

The supermarket doughnut ranks higher than several other shops for two reasons – price and amount of bacon ( see image below). 


That is a bacon maple donut.

Also these doughnuts are $0.70. Bargain!


5. Scafuri’s Bakery

This is your childhood in a doughnut- it’s soft, tasty and includes sprinkles. All round, a very successful baked good.


4. Beaver’s Donuts


Doughnut holes covered in caramel sauce, chocolate sauce and crushed nuts. Out of the top four these were the softest, possibly most greasiest of the top ones, but still very tasty and good value at $3 for 4 holes (5 in our case!)

3. Doughnut Vault


These rightly earn third place due to three things:

  1. Cuteness of shop
  2. Size of donut
  3. Actual fruit flavor (note the blueberry old fashioned which was the best fruit donut of the lot!


How cute is this? It is tiny inside as well – there is about room for 4 people!

2. Stan’s Donuts

Stan’s almost made it to the No. 1 spot and still does an amazing donut – the chocolate orange old fashioned and the Boston creme donut being of particular note. It also has a full display of Kitchenaids and makes milkshakes with a donut on top. 



And now we come to the top spot… 

1. Do-rite Donuts

We weren’t sure about the top spot – Stan’s was still pretty unbeatable and whilst we agreed that Do-Rite was close, it wasn’t an outright winner.

Until this.


The best donut in Chicago.

Do-Rite’s carrot cake donut. Amazing. 

Why is it so amazing you ask? I give you three reasons:

  1. No raisins – the worst part of carrot cake
  2. Great taste and amazing cream cheese frosting
  3. Softest texture of any donut 

Oh, and coffee is only a dollar. Can’t beat it. 

If carrot cake isn’t your thing, there is also apple fritters:


and chocolate Valhrona donuts


The carrot cake has to be number 1 though!

I’m sorry for the lack of posts – I will try to get back to more consistent posting soon!

America · Arizona · California · Food · Travelling

Post-Flight Jet Lag

I’m back in England now and suffering from the curse of flying west to east – Jet lag! I tried to avoid the worst of it – I slept about four hours on the plane (discovering that eye masks are actually a massive help in sleeping was a game changer!), stayed up until the evening and tried to keep to as normal a routine as possible, but it’s not completely worked, so I’m going to be productive and use this time to write about a few of the final thing we have done, places we saw and food we ate in our final days in Phoenix and San Francisco.

On the final Sunday we all went out for brunch at the Biltmore hotel, which was undergoing HUGE renovations at the time – it looked unrecognisable inside from our previous visits! All the interiors were halfway through being repaired, the main entrance in particular was being redone at the time! However, brunch at Frank and Albert’s was still delicious. I decided on the huevos rancheros, which featured a lot of guacamole, cheese and the most delicious chorizo, all with added black bean purée which is always a bonus!


The Biltmore is also the only place where meat and cheese is a necessary addition to a Bloody Mary. This wasn’t my drink so I can’t vouch for if it added to the flavour, but it definitely added interest!


After brunch we took a wander around some of the grounds of the hotel, Nathaniel did some painting and we enjoyed the sunshine for a short while. The hotel has some beautiful features to it and I can only imagine it must be a lovely place to stay! 





In the afternoon, Chloe and I tried to replicate the Arizona baking-cookies-outside challenge, however we chose the wrong week in which to visit for that! Despite earlier in the year having been unbearable for Phoenix, we hit right in the middle of monsoon season. Thunderstorms, yes. Humidity – oh yes! But temperatures hot enough to bake cookies on the hood of your car? Not so much. We nearly made it with one set on the hood of the car inside the garage, but the heat just wasn’t there (and the batter was disposed of before the experiment could be finished…)


Test site one – by the swimming pool. (The shadow is me – they weren’t in the shade). These were not a success – they were disposed of after being eaten by ants and stood on… 


On the car bonnet in the garage – the one closest to working!


On the car bonnet outside – much cooler than in the garage so not a real success either…

The final evening in Phoenix was completed by night swimming (after a steak barbecue and many cakes!) and water balloons- the perfect way to cool down.


If only this was appropriate in England!

The next day (Monday) we flew back to San Francisco, just for one night. Landing in the late afternoon we arrived at our hotel, checked in for our flight the next day and also realised we had got there just in time for cookies – you know it’s a good hotel when they give you tea and cookies/brownies at 4pm! We then headed out to Chinatown and enjoyed a massive Chinese Szechuan banquet for our final meal (we hadn’t eaten yet!)


Chicken and lemongrass potstickers and fried wontons


Spicy beef and vegetables

Apparently I failed to take pictures of the rest but it also included hot and sour soup, cashew chicken and mixed fried rice – alongside the fortune cookies and tea! Absolutely delicious, particularly the beef, but I definitely don’t feel the need to eat Chinese food again for a while!


San Francisco in the evening

The next morning we walked around through the districts of Mission in order to prepare for the long flight ahead, particularly with regard to food – I do not have faith in airline meals! We started with breakfast at Hayes Valley Bakeworks with this wonder:


Maple-bacon-cinnamon rolls – whoever invented this is a genius. I’m a sucker for that flavour combination anyway and this was simply divine!

After walking through from our hotel to Mission and around the surrounding areas for a few hours, we broke for lunch/brunch at about 11 at El Taqueria Farolito, a recommendation which proved to be an amazing find. Absolutely huge burritos – I had the regular and I dread to think what the large would have been like! We made the rookie mistake of ordering chips as well – not a plan! The proteins were also hugely varied – we went for the safer options of carne asada (steak) and chorizo but we could have had beef tongue, beef head or beef brains! Maybe next time!


Finally to complete I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit Bi-Rite Creamery (also in Mission) – another recommendation which I was happy to receive! After vacillating between flavours such as peach cobbler, basil and watermelon-coconut I finally decided to go with the black sesame and strawberry balsamic combination. Definitely a good final dessert in San Francisco.

Baking · Cake

Wedding Cake(s)

As a cake-focused blogger, when you get married the cake is going to be a central aspect of an ceremony. But what happens when you can’t narrow the different types down?

Well, this.

BOB_4594

BOB_4786

I knew as a slightly fanatical baker, that I wanted cake to be a central feature of my wedding, and so I decided to have a Great British Bake-Off style cake competition. So I suggested the ideas to my guests, and as you can tell they responded fantastically.

The contestants were asked to bring and decorate  a cake of their choice, with two prize being awarded – one for taste and one for decoration. Here are some of the amazing entries we had!

BOB_4395

Gluten-Free Fruit Cake – Winner of the decoration prize!

BOB_4396

French Chocolate Cake

BOB_4391

Multi-coloured Marble Cake

BOB_4415

Cappuccino Cake

BOB_4394

Guinness Cake

BOB_4393

Victoria Sandwich ‘Bundt-ing’ Cake

BOB_4398

My grandmother’s fruit cake

And obviously every wedding needs the official cake (chocolate of course!)

BOB_4515

Baking · Cake · Central America · Nation Cake Challenge

Mexico: Ricotta, Lime and Vanilla Cake

This delicious cake was taken from the book Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home by the brilliant Thomasina Miers.  One of my favourite restaurants to eat at when in London, she focuses on fresh and simple Mexican street food. This recipe traditionally would use a curd cheese called requeson, however Miers suggests ricotta as a good equivalent. The cake is moist and dense, but surprisingly light and fresh – definitely one to make again!

Ricotta cake 2

Ricotta Cake 1

Ricotta, Lime and Vanilla Cake

Ingredients:

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 300g ground almonds
  • 65g plain flour
  • grated zest and and juice of six limes
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla essence
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 300g ricotta cheese

Icing:

  • 75g ricotta cheese
  • 30g butter
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp grated lime zest

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 2 (300°F/150°C) and grease a 24in springform tin ready for use later. Line the base of the tin with greaseproof paper.

Combine the ground almonds, flour and lime zest in a bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together, before beating in the vanilla essence. Mix in the egg yolks one at a time before stirring in the flour mixture. In a different bowl, combine the ricotta and lime juice, before adding to the cake mix and combining well.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then start to fold into the mixture. Use a spoonful to loosen the mixture before folding in the rest, being careful to not take out too much of the air. Place in the cake tin and bake for an hour, until the cake is just set and slightly golden brown. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

To make the icing, beat the butter and ricotta together before beating in the icing sugar and lime zest. Beat with a mixer for several minutes until thick and smooth. Smooth over the cake, and decorate with extra lime zest as required.

Baking · Cake · Nation Cake Challenge · North America

Hawaii: Pineapple, Coconut and Blueberry Upside-Down Cake

As an American state slap-bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is a complete contrast to the rest of mainland America (My lack of geographical knowledge in my younger years becomes painfully evident when discussing the Pacific – until I was 11 I thought that Hawaii was somewhere in the Caribbean!). This tropical paradise (Paradise incidently being one of the archepeligo’s nicknames) enjoys ideal conditions for people from sun-seeking tourists to thrill-seeking surfers and volcanologists. Sadly it has one major issue, in that it is about as far as Britain as possible, therefore making a holiday rather impractical.

I plan to visit Hawaii at some point during my life, and at present the dreams of this island make the grey British January weather rather more bearable. When I walk down the cold, dark roads, I picture myself in Hawaii, eating pineapples (the island’s biggest crop), swimming in the warm sea and generally getting the sun I can’t seem to find at the moment!

pineapple upside down cake

The main aspect of this delicious cake, the pineapple is a major export of Hawaii. Whilst it originated in South America, it was introduced to the islands in the early 1990’s, quickly gaining massive popularity. The two largest pineapple companies (Dole and Del Monte) first started their companies on Oahu (the largest albums) and Hawaiian pineapple is still a massive corner of the market to this day. Combined in this delectable cake is the intensely tropical coconut and some added rum and blueberries to give some extra colour and intensity. Eat this cake and you will forever forget the pineapple upside down cakes of yesteryear.

The recipe was taken from  London Bakes (here)

Pineapple, Coconut and Blueberry Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients:

  • 500g fresh pineapple (canned will do at a push, but fresh is so much better!)
  • 20g fresh blueberries
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 30ml rum
  • 165g unsalted butter, softened plus more for the tin
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 185g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 175F.  Line a tin with parchment paper and grease well with butter. Don’t use a springform tin unless you want to spill hot syrup all over yourself…

In a saucepan, heat the coconut milk until boiling, before taking off the heat and stir in the dessicated coconut, vanilla and rum.  Leave to cool whilst you prepare the pineapple.

Cut the pineapple into thin slices (if using canned, then just drain the slices slightly).  Melt the butter and sugar in a frying pan and, when hot, add the pineapple slices and caramelize on each side (this will take about 3 minutes on each side). Remove from the heat, allow to cool and place the pineapple in a layer at the bottom of the cake tin.  Pour over the syrup from the pan.  Add the blueberries to the gaps between the pineapple slices.

To make the cake, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined and then fold in the flour, baking powder and coconut mixture. Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, carefully peeling off the parchment paper to expose the fruit topping.

Serve with ice cream or cream.

Baking · Cake

Pear and Pecan Cake (or ‘How I Nearly Killed a Wooden Spoon with a Food Processor)

Good afternoon blogging world. Long time no see.

The reason for this lack of contact is one I’m sure that many foodies face at some point – nothing I’ve tried out really worked. Apart from the very boring chocolate vanilla cupcakes I made for my string group, the other cake (a coffee-turkish delight combination which I’ll be posting about later) had some very mixed results. Whilst the school students loved them (and ate them all in about 10 seconds flat!), Max was not so impressed and said that they tasted savoury… not a good comment for a a sweet cupcake! Back to the drawing board with them.

Parsnip cake

Instead I present this cake, which met with very favourable results. I will say now that this recipe is completely someone else’s invention, coming from the wonderful cookbook Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood. Someone else’s it might be, but it is still very good. The secret ingredient in this cake is parsnip, grated and mixed into the batter in a method similar to that of a carrot cake.

parsnip cake 2

Making this cake also gave me the excuse to finally find out how the grating attachment on my Kenwood mixer works. This led to a slightly difficult moment when I tried to push the parsnip down with a wooden spoon – fine until the spoon hit the grating attachment. I’m sure you can imagine the rest. Poor wooden spoon.

Pear and Pecan Cake

Ingredients:

  • 3 small pears
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 150g pecans
  • 150g white rice flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 vanilla pod, halved and the seeds removed
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 200g finely grated parsnip
  • 125ml calvados (or if like me this is beyond your local community, cloudy apple juice also works)
  • Icing sugar (to decorate)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Grease and line a 23cm diameter springform tin and set aside.

Peel, core and thinly slice the pears, before sprinkling with lemon juice and setting aside. Grind the pecans in a food processor until very fine, then add the flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla seeds, ground ginger, cinnamon and whizz for another minute until completely combined.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and tripled in volume, before adding in the grated parsnip and the dry ingredients. Mix completely before adding in the Calvados/apple juice to loosen the mixture. Pour half the mixture into the tin and top with half the sliced pears. Pour the remaining mixture over the top and top with the remainder of the pears, arranging them into a pretty floral pattern. Cover with tin foil and bake in the oven for 2 hours. You have read this right, 2 hours. Take it out of the oven and serve with vanilla ice cream.89